What did the BYU men’s basketball team do during its 10-day break?
Quite a bit, actually.
The Cougars last played on February 8, an 82-71 loss to top-ranked Gonzaga in the Marriott Center. Since that time BYU has been like the proverbial duck on a pond: Calm and workmanlike on the surface but paddling like mad under the water.
Mark Pope and his coaching staff had conversations with as many as 20 teams in an attempt to schedule a game in those ten days.
“It was a blitzkrieg of opportunities that came in and out really fast,” Pope said Tuesday on his BYUtv coach’s show. “We had a top 32 team back east we thought we could have, but it just went sideways because of weather issues that inhibited their testing protocol. Then we had a game with a top 10 team potentially for (last) Saturday, but I backed out a little because it would have been such a fast turnaround for us. At the end of the day, nothing worked out exactly right for us. We did 20 minutes of prep for 20 teams in the past seven days and ended up just focusing on us.”
Pope added that the 10-day stretch was “therapeutic” for his team, which is 6-3 in West Coast Conference play (two of those losses are to Gonzaga) and 15-5 overall. The Cougars took the time to focus completely on themselves, refining and retooling for the final three games of the season and whatever comes next. The Cougars worked on their Linkedin pages to prepare for life after basketball and had a chance to listen to former BYU and NFL star Derwin Gray as he addressed athletes on inclusion and social justice issues.
The Cougars have three games left on the WCC schedule, including a road trip to Pacific (Thursday) and Loyola Marymount (Saturday) then finishing with a home game against Santa Clara on Feb. 25 in the Marriott Center. There also is a possibility the league will find a spot for BYU to make up a lost game or two.
“The whole league is a little bit crazy,” Pope said. “So it’s a free-for-all right now.”
A couple of road wins would help solidify an NCAA Tournament invitation for BYU, which is listed in most predictive models as a No. 8 seed.
Pope said he and his team aren’t taking anything for granted and will simply focus on the next game.
“Danny Gavitt is a vice president for the NCAA and is over the men’s basketball tournament,” Pope said. “He said this before the season: The NCAA Tournament is not going to be fair. There is no way to make it fair. We’re just going to do the best we can. The most important thing is that we’re actually playing games.”
BYU and Pacific had a wild meeting back on Jan. 30, a slugfest that the Cougars eventually won 95-87 in double overtime. Brandon Averette had 24 points and Alex Barcello 23 in the win.
The Tigers also have done something BYU couldn’t do: Throw a bit of a scare into Gonzaga. Pacific played the Zags tight for 30 minutes before falling 75-58 on Feb. 4. Daniss Jenkins and Jeremiah Bailey lead the Tigers in scoring at 12.9 and 12.3 points per game, respectively.
“Pacific is a really talented team,” Pope said. “They space the floor and have five guys who can shoot the three. They are tough and really physical. They take on the nature of their coach, Damon Stoudamire, who was an all-time great at Arizona and played for a long time in the NBA. We barely escaped them at home in double overtime and now we get to go run at it back at their place.”